Do you have student loan debt? Well if you do, you’re in good company. I have a TON of it and know just how hard it can be to stay dedicated to paying off student loans. (or any other debt for that matter).
This week I actually made my very first student loan payment! It was an exciting milestone. It means a few things: 1) I am not in school anymore, 2) I have a job (and thus can make a payment), and 3) I have officially begun our journey getting these suckers paid off.
I knew that staying focused on our student loans to get them paid off as quickly as possible was going to be tricky. My husband and I have both basically been in school for the last 20-22 years. I have been living frugally my practically my whole life. When I graduated from law school, it was a HUGE temptation to just throw in the towel and say, I’m DONE living poor. I’ve worked hard, and I deserve [insert trip to Hawaii, new clothes, new car, new house, whatever it is you haven’t been able to afford]. It is hard to see friends around us, whether they have debt or not, living *much* more comfortable lifestyles than I am. Some of our friends who have similar student loan debt to us have chosen to go with income driven repayment, so they don’t have the need to live as frugally as we are. Tempting, for sure.
And there really are so many temptations along the way. For example, last week was my birthday. My family and friends were so generous and I received what I will call a combined birthday income of $1050 in gifts from family members. My most lucrative birthday yet! There were so many things I wanted to buy THIS baby carrier, oh and THIS ONE, and a
FITBIT, a million new clothes, plane tickets to Hawaii, etc etc). So you can imagine the crushing weight of knowing that all of that money was going to go to student loans.
But actually it wasn’t bad at all. I couldn’t believe how good it felt to put all of it, plus a good chunk of my first pay check, towards our loans. It also resulted in HALF of my undergraduate student loans getting paid off so it really felt like a double high. A two-fer, if you will.
This has prompted the thought: how are we doing to stay dedicated to paying off student loans? Once Danny starts working, it is likely going to be twice as hard to stay focused since our income will double. Oh the things we could buy!
So, here is our strategy to stay focused paying off student loans:
CREATE A BUDGET (and stick to it, which is the important part).
By creating a budget, we will be able to direct our money into the places we want it to go, so that we do not overspend. If we do not give ourselves a cap in various aspects of our budget, our money can get out of control. For example, if I do not have a set limit to spend at the grocery store, then I will just buy whatever I want. I won’t turn down those overpriced pre-made meals, because there is no reason to. There are reasons why we have rules and laws in society. We as a human species, need boundaries. Without boundaries, things can get out of control, fast.
Take my toddler M for example. If I do not give M rules and boundaries, my sweet little boy turns into an out of control mini-monster. He also gets hurt. He also hurts me or other children. Lately, he really thinks its fun to hit me in the face. I do not appreciate being hit in the face. I would wager that most people do not appreciate being hit in the face. So, I am teaching him to stop hitting people in the face and that there are consequences for this action. I set boundaries for his own benefit– to protect him, keep him safe, and so that hopefully he has a chance of becoming a good person as he grows up.
Now, imagine that I just let him hit me in the face. He would think that hitting people in the face is ok. He might hit some kid in the face at school. Then, that kid might beat the crap out of him. He might get suspended from school. He might grow up to be a little punk. He will likely feel out of control and helpless.
Don’t be a little money monster.
It is the same with us and our money. If we do not set boundaries, we turn into little money monsters. Our money gets out of control. We then feel out of control. We feel helpless. We feel like we don’t have any self-discipline. That makes us feel bad about ourselves. That in turn can cause us to spend even more money, trying to fill the emptiness we feel inside. So, the first place to start with your money is having a budget. It does not have to be rigid. You might have something as loose as “in a one month period I don’t want to spend more than ____ dollars for all of my needs/wants. Whatever it is, you must have some boundary for your money.
(P.S. Some of the ways we keep our budget in check is by using money saving/earning apps and websites when we do our shopping. For example, I never grocery shop without using my FREE Ibotta app. Ibotta offers cash back on things that we are already buying (eggs, produce, cereal, etc). We simply click on the items we are going to buy, and then take a picture of our receipt and quickly earn cash back.
HAVE WEEKLY MONEY MEETINGS.
Once a week, you should discuss money spent that week and observe how you are doing overall with your budget.
Every week, we will sit down with each other and review all of the money that we spent. We have decided to start with using the app MINT but you could also just check your bank account and track your spending that week. Accountability is HUGE in almost every facet of our lives. If I don’t have accountability at work, I don’t work as hard. If I don’t have a deadline for a paper, it never gets written. Having someone that you are accountable to is huge. Even if you don’t physically have another person that you are accountable to, creating a budget and doing weekly check ins with yourself makes you accountable! And at the very least serves as a reminder that you are trying to stick to a budget.
Review your debt load and note the amount of interest accruing.
This will surely help us to continue to feel the weight of our student loans. It is kind of like weighing yourself while you are on a diet. You don’t want to do it too often, because that can be discouraging. These things take time you know. But you want to do it often enough that it pricks you, prompts you, and inspires you to keep up your hard work.
Review your goals and dreams.
WHY are you paying off student loans aggressively? Do you want to free up some extra money in your budget for more discretionary income? Do you want to travel more? Do you want to buy a house? Do you simply just want to be debt free for the sake of being debt free?
Whatever it is, review those goals and dreams frequently. Nothing will help you stay more dedicated to paying off student loans than reviewing your “WHY.” I mean, there are some things I want SO BAD, like giving M a good chance at life (sports, schooling, etc), when we are out of debt– a beach house and world travel are high on that list. So when I think of that, it really is a lot easier to stay dedicated to paying off student loans.
What things do you do to stay focused on paying off student loans? I’d love to hear from you!.